Apple announced recently that Jony Ive is leaving Apple. He’s worked there for 3 decades and is 52 years old. Having now read and listened to quite a lot of commentary on the subject, I find it odd how much is credited to Jony. Industrial design alone can not create a successful product. Industrial design often takes a back seat to engineering tradeoffs like cost, manufacturability, repairability and so on, however Apple since their comeback in the early 2000s were happy to put a higher priority on their industrial design than during the boring beige box era of the 1990s. This approach played a part their comeback and influenced the design of other products in the same and similar markets for years that followed.
Jony was the leader of a team of industrial designers and many times the ideas they championed, that would have been shot down at other companies, were upheld and supported at Apple. If you were to take the industrial designers at Apple and put them at Dell, there is no doubt in my mind many of their designs never would have seen the light of day. If you were to take the industrial designers at Dell and put them at Apple, there is no doubt in my mind that their designs would have been supported too, and the resulting products would have been perhaps, almost as successful. But not quite.
Jonys influence elevated several of Apples products and Apple could and did support his team in that endeavour. Industrial design and engineering is a symbiotic relationship and at Apple, Jony was in a position where his name carried some of the success of what was and will always be a team effort. His leaving changes little of the design ethics, principles and focus on industrial design at Apple. It’s an opportunity for other great designers at Apple to step up and out of Jonys shadow.
It seems unlikely that in future roles Jony will enjoy the same success in terms of his designed products sold or product revenue or have the backing of what became a unique relationship he had at Apple. That’s okay - he doesn’t need to. Jony has earned the chance to make whatever he wants - to pick and choose and enjoy design for products more on his own terms than he could had he stayed at Apple. It’s an opportunity that few get.
I wish him all the best.
And for those concerned about Apple…don’t be…Apple will be just fine.